#74:Cinema Paradiso [1988]

For me, Cinema Paradiso is precisely what cinema is all about. Whilst it’s frequently guilty of what could accurately be described as overly squishy sentimentalism, we readily forgive writer/director Giuseppe Tornatore as he’s given us a real treasure here. The story is narrated mainly through protagonist Salvatore Di Vita’s flashbacks, prompted by a call from his elderly mother informing him of Alfredo’s death, whoever he is. Starting back when Salvatore (or Totò, back then) was a young boy and documenting his early life chronologically, we see the
relationships Totò develops with the residents of his small Sicilian hometown, Giancaldo. Much of his past revolves around the Cinema Paradiso, as does much of the social activity of the town.
Tornatore is the first director to use the flashback narrative device in a way I find remotely bearable, for which I heartily applaud him. The success is perhaps in its simplicity, as we observe Totò in three sequential stages of his life. At first, the flashbacks take us back to meet him as an incredibly naughty little boy who falls in love with the cinema, whilst awaiting the return of his father from WW2. Totò (here played by Salvatore Cascio) finds a surrogate father figure in the projectionist Alfredo (Phillipe Noiret) and becomes his protégée. Later, the adolescent Totò (Marco Leonardi, who I’d recommend Google image searching) has become the projectionist and falls hopelessly in love with the very middle class Elena (Agnese Nano). I don’t want to give too much away, but suffice it to say that by the time Totò has become a grey-haired, Rome-based big shot (played by Jacques Perrin), he’s hasn’t contacted anyone from his hometown in decades, not even Alfredo.
Much is made of the romantic strand of the tale, encouraged by the extra hour of coverage it receives in the extended version. I’m not particularly interested in romance for its own sake in movies, but in Cinema Paradiso Totò’s relationship with Elena greatly influences other aspects of his story and so is certainly not the sort of redundant romance which often steals so much screen time. Instead, it poses questions about the value of personal success and the power of nostalgia. More than anything, their love serves as a pointed comparison to Totò’s love for the cinema and film, a correlation which culminates powerfully at the close of the movie as Totò watches Alfredo’s parting gift to him: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=94aAPTWtcEQ.
Having a small town in Sicily as the primary setting for a movie is always going to produce a visually beautiful work, but the way Tornatore captures the pace of life in Giancaldo is simply remarkable. Small moments, in particular the interaction of the vividly portrayed local characters, weave together to form an intricate tapestry, providing an additional and much needed dynamic to the simple main plot line. There is tragedy, there is romance, there is comedy, nostalgia and poignancy, all of which work together seamlessly to create a true classic. All in all, Cinema Paradiso is a well-wrought celebration of cinema history and a damn good watch.

Chris's Summary: 'A great reminder to the lost art of cinema going and a wonderful tribute to film'.


  1. I saw this film at an open-air screening, and even when it began to rain, so rapt was the audience that they stayed to appreciate the film to its very end and awarded it with an immediate round of applause. You've captured here so well what makes this film a classic.


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